Friday, December 28, 2007

An Important Milestone in Videomaking: The Canon L2

The Canon L Series Camcorders

In this segment of our series we take a close look at the Canon L2 camcorder. It may be dry reading for many, but it does explain why this model became so important to me, not to mention that it and Billie Cromwell were largely responsible for making the PGC Elk Video something more than just another wildlife agency video release.

Canon is known to most of us as a manufacturer of great still cameras, but it has also been a leader in the Prosumer camcorder field. With the introduction of the L series camcorders in the 1990s they put a powerful tool into the hands of the wildlife cameraman.
I have not been able to find the exact dates of production for these models, but the following is true.

The introduction of the L1 marked the first time an interchangeable lens camcorder was available at a price that was affordable for the serious videographer. After a time the L1 was replaced with the L2, which was cosmetically identical, but had an expanded array of digital effects and featured embedded time code.

Billie Cromwell purchased his in March 1995 and shot the elk rut that year with it, using the combination of the normal lens and a 2x extender that was especially made for this camera lens combination. The street price for this camera was in the $2,500.oo range so I didn’t consider it when I bought the Panasonic, which was about $1,000.00 cheaper.The Panasonic compared favorably to the L2 with its’ normal lens although it wasn’t quite as powerful, but I was soon to learn that the Canon was well worth the price difference.

The Canon featured a normal lens with a range of 8mm-120mm. That doesn’t sound like much, but in comparison to a 35mm camera that was 43mm-648mm, which is quite impressive. With the 2x multiplier it was 86mm-1296mm equivalent and that is not to be sneezed at. The only drawback was that it was slightly soft with the extender but it worked well under good light conditions.

Canon L2 Showing lens mount and rear portion of normal lens

Things really got interesting when one attached a 35mm telephoto lens to it. This was done by means of an EOS adapter, which went between the camera body and the lens. The camera had a ½ “ sensor and one multiplied the stated focal length of a lens by a factor of 5.4 which made a 35-350 lens a 189mm-1,890mm equivalent.

Billie and I discussed this option quite a bit but the cost was intimidating. The EOS adapter was about $300.00 and a Canon L 35-250 was near $2,000. (This was still cheap compared to a professional rig, which could easily run $60,000 for a camera and lens. The Canon L1 and L2 did not match the performance of these cameras, but it did give one the same ability to shoot at long distance and the picture was good enough for broadcast and documentary purposes if one shot it right and transferred it to a professional format tape for distribution.)

We belonged to a video club at Sunrise Electronics in Chambersburg, Pa. One evening in the spring of 1996, a fellow club member, Kim Morris, showed up with a used L1, an EOS adapter and a 200-400mm Tamron Lens. He gave a demonstration of the equipment and showed footage that he had taken. I was stunned! This setup gave one the ability to record wildlife footage at extreme range!Billie did not attend the meeting so I called him and said something to the effect of,” Billie you just have to buy that adapter and a telephoto lens”. In time he did just that! I well recall the first footage he showed me. It was of deer feeding in the woods between 150-200 yards away and one could see the flies on them!

L2 with 300mmF4 IS and EOS adapter

Billie used this outfit to tape wildlife for the rest of the year and the footage I saw was enlightening. It was unbelievable what one could do with this camera.

After this, I was very dissatisfied with the Panasonic and tried to purchase an L2 early the following spring, but to my dismay found they were discontinued. I wrote to Canon to see if they planned to introduce an upgraded version, but they refused to comment other than thanking me for my interest in Canon Products.

This led me to purchase a used L2, and the experience turned into a nightmare as it quickly developed a problem with the viewfinder and then with the tape transport. In time these difficulties were ironed out and it turned in respectable service until I replaced it with a mini-dv Canon XL-1s in 2002.

In the meantime Billie and I were about to have a lot of exciting encounters with wildlife which we would not have otherwise had!
To be continued:


Anonymous said...

Your story is compelling, Willard but I can't afford to get interested in it and video cameras "again." I am too old. LOL And on a fixed income.

Old Wom Tigley said...

This is again a very interesting set of posts, and to a complete novice like me is very interesting.. I have been showing my friend Big Peter this and he was very pleased. I think if the money was there Peter would have a set-up like this and off he would go.
I and Peter look forward to more on this subject Willard.

I hope you and your loved ones enjoy a great Christmas and are now gearing up for the New Year...
All the very best Willard. I look forward to reading more and viewing you blog in 2008.

You friend from England

Willard said...


One thing is certain. Video is a money pit and I think one is financially better off if they stick to still photography.

I sometimes wish I hadn't become addicted to these cameras and the editing.

It wouldn't be so bad if one could use one for 10-20 years, but at the rate that technology moves, they are outdated in a few years and within ten it is hopeless and there you are stuck with tapes from an obsolete format.

Willard said...


That's what I do like about these rigs. One doesn't have to get in concealment to get close enough to wildlife, but can often just shoulder the rig and go about the countryside much like hunting with a firearm. With larger animals it is possible to get excellent footage at extreme ranges.

Tina Leigh said...

The things we do for our own excitement. I dont think it is a bad investment Willard. Its what you like to can afford it. If I had all the money we've put into fishing....tackle, poles, etc....well.....lets just say......enjoy it all Willard. Life is short! Money cant go with you & it aint like your throwing it away either. That's bad about figures find something you like & then they quit making it.

Sharon said...

I'm familiar with L series lenses (would love to have a few, don't have any yet!)but had no idea Canon had L series video. Sounds amazing.

Kevin said...

If anyone is interested, I have qty:04 (L2 HI-8 Camera's)all with the 8-120MM lenses. I am in the military, and bought them years ago. I can tell you that I have tested 3 of them, and they all work. I am willing to part with them, but am not good at bartering. I actually had 6 of them but gave a few away. Anyways, they all work except for one. It has a tag on it that says "tape deck issue". I planned on keeping two of them for capturing UFO's at night. Using IR filters I wanted to film all of the weird things I see in the desert sky. Anyways, that is how I found this blog. I was merely looking for help with filters. I also have the schematic repair manual if one wanted to work on them, I paid extra for the publication (sorry not shown in the pic), but it is in excellent shape as well. If someone is interested, send me an email with an offer (I prefer keeping one for myself). But if I can get one back from my buddy, (it also works) that would give you a total quantity of qty:03 (in operating condition), and one that has the tape deck issue(equals 4 cameras total). But back to the tape deck issue, I did get it running for a few minutes, so I think it is a motor malfunction of sorts?

Just copy and paste the link below, then click it again for better resolution. I tweaked it and made it semi-panoramic.

This is not an attempt to make a load of cash from these. I think I paid $1500.00 for everything back in 2000. So if we reach an agreement, I can fedex these cameras - and the repair manual- with a tracking number. If your paranoid, we can paypal the deal or I can go ahead and post them to ebay for fair bidding. If you live near southern Arizona, you can come over my place and see them in action. I did make one recording with one as I tried to film a UFO. Follow this link for to see the quality.
thanks (A Z P I T B U L L at G M A I L D O T C O M

Thanks, Wayne